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By John Cassels and Jessica Burns
It doesn't take a genius to work out that food prices have shot up significantly in recent years. Coupled with rising prices, volatile commodity markets and horsemeat scandals there are concerns about the functioning of the overall food supply chain.
For competition law, this has meant increased enforcement action and close monitoring of food markets. Remarkably, since 2004 National Competition Authorities and the European Commission have undertaken over 180 antitrust investigations, 1300 merger control proceedings and 100 market monitoring actions in the food sector.
The focus has been on horizontal infringements - price fixing, market and customer sharing and exchange of confidential information. In 2013 alone:
Yet, the focus is broadening. Since DG Comp's ‘Task Force Food' was set up in 2012, we have witnessed:
These latest measures share a common rationale - to tackle the imbalance in bargaining power between producers and retailers e.g. through unfair trading practices. In other words, they aim to protect the weaker party in the contractual relationship.
In practical terms, they reflect a clear move by competition authorities to intensify enforcement throughout the supply chain. For companies, this brings a heightened risk of embroilment in competition investigations.
If you would like to discuss these issues, please do not hesitate to contact John Cassels at email@example.com or Jessica Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org.